Produced by: South Coast Repertory, Shakespeare Theatre Company and Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Featuring: Steven Epp
Directed by: Dominique Serrand
When: March 13 through April 12, 2015
Where: Berkeley Repertory Theatre, 2025 Addison Street, Berkeley, California
Tickets: $29 and up. Call 1-510-647-2949 or visit berkeleyrep.org.
Updated March 26, 2015
Molière was asking for trouble when he named a play "Tartuffe," meaning hypocrite. Censorship then, 350 years ago, could have led an audience to riot, or to people being arrested or playwrights being excommunicated.
Today, we sit in the audience and think: OK, parody, what’s the big deal?
Times have changed and Molière’s "Tartuffe" has endured. While it has been revised and censored several times since 1664, the sarcastic, biting wit stays the same. The play overflows with it, verbal and non-verbal, much of it at Berkeley Rep flowing out of the mouth of Suzanne Warmanen as Dorine, the family housemaid.
There are numerous exaggerations and hypocrisies throughout the play, made more interesting with characters that speak the entire play in rhyming fashion.
Dorine’s family and her world has been turned upside down since the Head of the House, Orgon (Luverne Seifert) and his mother have fallen under the spell of Tartuffe (Steven Epp), a fraud and previously homeless man before Orgon brought him home. Tartuffe pretends to speak with divine authority, and completely convinces Orgon and his mother that he has a direct connection with God.
But, Tartuffe wants everything Orgon has, especially Orgon's wife Elmire (Sofia Jean Gomez), whom he attempts to seduce.
Tartuffe doesn’t fool the rest of the family, in fact, they detest his destruction of what used to be a happy home. The unrest is evident immediately as family members enter the stage arguing at each other in their nightgowns. Following the argument, Dorine tells Cleante (Gregory Linington), Orgon’s brother-in-law, how ridiculously bad the situation is. Dorine says Orgon is so in awe that when Tartuffe farts, Orgon delightfully exclaims, "Ooooo, yes!" Upon Orgon’s return, Dorine describes how the stress has made Elmire so ill that she has to she had to be bled by the doctor. Orgon’s response is "Yes, but how is Tartuffe?"
Suzanne Warmanen steals the show as Dorine. In one moment, she’s running around the stage, nearly pulling her hair out with frustration at Orgon’s foolish behavior. Facing him head-on, tearing at the boundaries of respect, between employer and employee, she protests his poor decisions with the family. She argues bravely, even after running into a corner of the room, and continues to ridicule Orgon, making the audience laugh at him, too. In another scene, she is the "Great Negotiator" in a lover’s spat between Valere (Christopher Carley) and Mariane (Lenne Klingaman); grabbing each of their hands, pushing them back together, and encouraging them to "kiss and make-up."
It’s funny how simply delaying the appearance of a character builds up anticipation, curiousity, and personal visualization. The family turmoil and negative descriptions of Tartuffe led me to seeing a very different looking man, in my imagination. When Epps enters, the glutton is slender and attractive, even showing his physique with his shirt unbuttoned throughout the play. He moves around the stage with graceful, slow, measured steps, while his silent servant, Laurent (Nathan Keepers) slinks behind him.
The family devises a plan to trap Tartuffe into confessing his desire for Elmire. Tartuffe does indeed pursue Elmire when they are alone. Gomez is perfect as the demure Elmire. Her gaze is confident, and subtlety flirty as she attempts to get Tartuffe to confess, but Laurent conveniently moves a chair, making her fall nearly into Tartuff’s arms. But, his advances are interrupted when Orgon’s son Damis (Brian Hosetenske) enters. Tartuffe is shocked, at first, but cleverly uses reverse psychology to declare himself the worst sinner. In fact, the plan backfires so badly that Orgon offers to sign all his worldly possessions over to Tartuffe, the ultimate Holy Act.
For a glimpse of what could be called the original reality show, check it out. "Tartuffe" is playing at the Berkeley Repertory Theatre through April 12.
Email Petra Brady at firstname.lastname@example.org